Burma: EU investment agreement needs stronger provisions to address human rights protection

Press release

(Paris, Brussels) The European Union (EU) must do more to ensure that the bilateral investment agreement it is currently negotiating with Burma protects human rights, FIDH and its member organization, the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN-Burma) said today.

The two organizations made the call in response to the draft Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) of an EU-Burma investment agreement, released by the EU in March 2016. The SIA includes an analysis of the economic, social, environmental, and human rights impacts of the investment agreement that the EU and Burma have been negotiating since March 2014.

“The draft Sustainability Impact Assessment offers an accurate picture of the serious human rights challenges that Burma faces and makes critical proposals to improve the investment agreement. However, the document requires clearer and more specific recommendations aimed at ensuring that the investment agreement provides effective human rights protection.”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

While the responsibility to ensure protection against human rights violations lies principally with Burma’s government and EU member states, the investment agreement must clearly reaffirm their human rights obligations. The investment agreement must also ensure access to remedies for human rights violations and effective enforcement and grievance mechanisms for affected communities.

“The EU must ensure its investment agreement with Burma compels EU investors to implement their obligation to respect human rights. The Burmese people must benefit from foreign investment, not be harmed by it. The investment agreement is incomplete without meaningful measures to address the human rights situation in Burma.”

Debbie Stothard, ALTSEAN-Burma Coordinator and FIDH Secretary-General

The draft SIA report exposes Burma’s very weak governance structures as well as the country’s poor capacity to implement and enforce its laws. These factors could contribute to and exacerbate human rights violations in connection with investors’ operations in Burma.

Due diligence measures from EU investors should not simply be encouraged but should rather be made compulsory. Due diligence must cover the entire supply chain, be sector-specific, and be designed in consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including affected rights-holders.

Burma’s garment sector is particularly fraught with human rights abuses, which must be addressed through the adoption of specific human rights protection measures. Labor rights, including freedom of association, collective bargaining, and measures that prohibit discrimination against minorities, women, and sexual harassment in the workplace deserve particular attention.

Finally, the ongoing and systematic human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities must not be ignored. They demand increased awareness on the part of the EU and EU investors and require enhanced precautionary measures.

Related documents:
FIDH and Altsean-Burma, “EU-Myanmar/Burma Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) – FIDH and Altsean-Burma comments on Sustainability Impact Assessment’s Draft final Report” April 2016.

Draft Final Report of the Sustainability Impact Assessment on the EU-Myanmar Investment Protection Agreement, published online on 18 March 2016

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